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Wobbegong

Wobbegong Conquers the Sakamichi

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  1. 1. What's the farthest from home you've traveled in your life?

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Hello! I've just moved to Japan and am now settled enough now to return to Nerd Fitness. I've missed you all and I'm glad to be back! 

 

Sakamichi is the Japanese word for steep roads (literally "hill street"), and my new town has more than a few. As it turns out, the town is basically on a gently sloping cliffside, a tiny strip of barely livable land between a mountain and the ocean. Everything here is straight up and down. Feels just like home! 

 

I only just arrived in Japan about a week and a half ago but already the context presents significant changes to my former standards of eating and moving. Therefore, this challenge I'm not going to give myself any health or fitness related goals except one: pay attention. I don't need to make sure to exercise a certain number of times a week or eat salads every day, but just notice what I'm doing and what I'm not doing and what's different and what's the same and what, if anything, is changing as a result. (For example, my skin has mysteriously cleared up and become very soft since my arrival. A welcome but baffling new thing. Bath steam? Soy products? Rice magic? No idea.) 

So, in order to set myself up for future success, I will spend this challenge re-establishing a baseline. I will pay attention to: 

  • What I am eating and how much (food composition and portion size) 
  • When I am sitting and when I am not, and what I am doing when I am not sitting (phrased this way because my life used to be "go for a run and then lounge in bed all day" and is now very little sitting) 
  • What I am doing with my time, what I want to be doing with my time, and if the two match (if not, why) 
  • The environmental factors that are notably different and the factors that are, for all intents and purposes, the same 

 

Some of these things will require daily check-ins, and some are more general trends, but I have an opportunity here to design my life however I want and being mindful of all of these things now will hopefully help me take advantage and make some good changes. 

 

Wish me luck and please feel free to ask any questions that occur to you! 

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Today I visited my other junior high school (in Inatori, a few blocks from my apartment -- but you wouldn't know it from the roundabout back roads I was instructed to use to get there! I got lost this morning, so on the way home I took the straightforward but steep route). The school is bigger so I wasn't able to visit every class today, but I did my self-introduction with one class of first years, one class of second years, and two classes of third years. (That would be all the classes at the other school, but this one has two classes in each grade, so I only get to 4/6 every day. Still pretty small!) 

 

For my self-introduction, the teachers have asked that I take about 20 minutes to talk about myself with visual aids (pictures), and then after we do Q&A. The students like to ask how old I am (since it was my birthday yesterday, I allow it) and if I'm married. The teachers are all very concerned that I'll be offended, but the students seem to be curious, not trying to cause trouble, so I don't mind answering. My favorite question was "how big are your shoes?" lol. Most students have pretty good animal vocabulary, and luckily there are a lot of weird animals that live near my house, so for the self-introduction I've been getting by pretty well just talking about my family and the local wildlife. The students are especially stunned when I talk about the turkeys! I didn't have a picture from my own house to show them, but I found this picture online that wasn't cited but is recognizably one street over from mine: 

wildturkey1.jpg?w=568

 

It turns out most Japanese people have never seen a turkey with its feathers still on, so this one gets a lot of "EEEEEHHHH??? NANI SORE???"s (what the heck is that??!). So far guesses have included peacock, flamingo, chicken, and my personal favorite: "Is it... a cow?" (After I get a couple guesses, I offer the hint, "You eat it at Christmas." Japanese people believe turkey is ubiquitous Christmas food, although they themselves traditionally eat KFC and "Christmas cake." In my house, we have "roast beast" on Christmas and turkey is for Thanksgiving. I haven't bothered to dive into this with the students, but the Japanese English Teachers are always totally shocked.) The kids all really want to talk to me but are super intimidated by English and think I'll judge them for making mistakes (they clearly don't know me yet) so I like to go ahead and make myself look ridiculous by miming the turkeys strutting around and showing off their feathers and trying to fly-jump onto the roof of my house. It's a routine that gets a lot of laughs and really seems to set the students at ease! Glad I stumbled on that one, lol.  

 

Tomorrow I'll do a few more self-introduction lessons, but there's also a back-to-school night (that's how it was translated, but parents come to observe class during regular school hours, it's not an extra evening event) and I have no idea what I'm expected to do for that. I was told "The parents are coming to see you and me teach English!" which is a little alarming but hopefully more communication will be forthcoming.

 

Aside from that, I'm still settling into my new life, but I've already noticed 1) the plate sizes are much smaller here, which contributes to smaller servings; 2) "okashi," or snack food, mostly comes individually wrapped: so a box of cookies looks the same size as in America, but ends up with far fewer cookies because they're all separately packaged inside. That also means there's no rush to eat them because they're not going to get stale, and there's visible evidence of how many I've eaten (wrappers) which makes it easy to stop; 3) school lunch, which I am required to eat, is pre-portioned and healthy, not prison food like they served at my school; 4) the food here has far less salt than the food at home (I can tell because within a week of arriving my favorite cheese now tastes horribly salty -- sad face); and 5) something about being here makes me feel like carrying a large amount of unhealthy food with me to the comfy chair is Not Done so I serve myself a reasonable portion and eat only that much. 

 

I have no way of knowing if that last one will endure, since I'm not sure what it is making me feel that way. But the other points are pretty much just my life now. Generally speaking, I haven't felt particularly hungry since arriving, so despite all this I'm not actually convinced I'm eating less. Eventually, either I'll change shape or I won't, and I'll know based on how my clothes fit, since I don't have a measuring tape or a scale. But hopefully these differences will help me on my quest! 

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Come to think of it, I don't think I have ever seen a turkey with feathers on either (except at the zoo here in Beijing)

 

The parent observation classes are also a thing here and are called open class days. I think they are primarily to set the parents at ease about the classroom conditions and to give us a chance to see how the students interact with the teachers (the obvious flaw here being that on open class days the teachers are super patient and the kids don't dare get out of line with he parent there watching...)

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Another thing I have noticed but didn't really consider until now: my apartment is FREEZING (in Japan, insulation is not a thing) so I spend a lot of time sitting around shivering. Maybe that'll help with some NEAT energy expenditure, the same way fidgeting does (supposedly). Does anyone have a DIY insulation solution that works AND doesn't look really terrible? The internet has suggested bubble wrapping my windows and taping gaps but both of those fail the second criterion (also my windows slide open so bubble wrap would affect functionality). 

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When I lived there we relied very heavily on our kerosene heater.  If you have a kotatsu it makes things more bearable (as long as you don't have to move around)

 

getting into & out of the shower is just going to be miserable - no getting around that

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2 hours ago, WhiteGhost said:

getting into & out of the shower is just going to be miserable - no getting around that

#bathtime #soakuptheheat #immediatelychangeintofuzzypajamas #andgetintobed #myshikibutonisthebest #buttatamimatsareawful #theysmell #andarenotgoodinsulation 

 

I'm not very good at hashtag culture but I try. 

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11 minutes ago, Wobbegong said:

#buttatamimatsareawful

Heresy!  I didn't much care for them at first but after a while (read: during the summer) I really came to appreciate them

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2 minutes ago, WhiteGhost said:

Heresy!  I didn't much care for them at first but after a while (read: during the summer) I really came to appreciate them

Ok, I'll wait for summer and reassess. But my tatami mats are brand new and they do smell very strongly of hay and mud. (This is apparently normal and desirable but walking into my apartment the first time with no idea what the smell was I was convinced it was mildew or mold of some kind.) 

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4 minutes ago, Wobbegong said:

But my tatami mats are brand new and they do smell very strongly of hay and mud

I may have lived in Japan for too long, but now I lurv that new tatami smell.  Way better than new car smell :D 

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1 hour ago, WhiteGhost said:

I may have lived in Japan for too long, but now I lurv that new tatami smell.  Way better than new car smell :D 

I might eventually learn to like it but right now with my bug problem I'm keeping my room sealed off as much as possible so every night when I go in there I get blasted in the face with a really concentrated swamp smell. It's a lot. 

 

21 hours ago, IAmInfinite said:

I generally find that making sure the floor is warmish helps. Putting a rug down means that the heat doesn't get leeched out from the floor. ?

Thanks for the tip! When I moved in the Board of Education people made some noises about rugs but I completely forgot. But now I have a vacuum and it's a solid floors only machine. :( But maybe some small area rugs, and I can clean them on the balcony? (Bugs are a huge issue in Japanese apartments so I'm trying to proactively stay super clean.) 

 

20 hours ago, Rainelf said:

Woolly jumpers!

If only I had thought to bring some! I'll have a lot of trouble finding them in my size now, but all of the teachers at the schools where I work wear athletic gear all day! So I'm thinking I might buy a men's sports jacket to snuggle up in. 

 

20 hours ago, Hazard said:

giphy.gif

Me every night. My shikibuton is seriously the best. 

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You guys I'm so tired of not being fully moved-in yet and at the same time I only have so much energy every day to get essential things done. I have a decent amount of storage space in my apartment but no storage solutions (shelves, boxes, drawers, hooks, etc) so everything is just tossed on the floor or, you know, wherever. It's really stressful to come home to a mess every day after tidying the day before but there's just so much stuff and so few places to put it! 

 

I went to Daiso and got some of those metal basket shelves, but I haven't assembled them yet. So far my evening options have been cook-tidy-assemble-bath and I usually just cook and bathe because... food... and hygiene... (in the states I don't bathe so often but all these sakamichi have me sweating all the time and a nice soak is a good way to keep away from the apartment chill and relax so...) and then only have the ability to "tidy" a little. Like hide all the mess in the bedroom and do the dishes, a little. People keep coming over unexpectedly, or else I would just let it be messy for a day. But hopefully this weekend I'll have some food prepped and since I have all the stuff I need to assemble the shelves I'll be able to get it done once and for all. That would be really nice. 

 

I'm slowly but surely settling in. I still have no spices but I bought some garlic, ginger, mirin, and sugar today, to go with my very basic pantry that had included only soy sauce, ketchup, salt, and pepper. Sigh. Moving is tough, man. Unless you count furikake, which I kind of don't, Japanese people aren't really big on herbs and spices. I certainly haven't found that section in the grocery store yet. Speaking of the grocery store, today at school I had to attend the inaugural PTA meeting (all the teachers were introduced to the parents, including me) and then when I went grocery shopping a lady stopped me and said, "Hey, aren't you the new ALT? My kid goes to Inatori Middle School!" so I took the opportunity to ask her where the heck I could find some goddamn chicken stock. (In Japan, it comes in blocks, not liquid form.) So now I have some of that, too. She did not understand "It's chicken in a box that you put in hot water to make chicken flavor" and suggested oyakodon (chicken and egg served over rice) but as soon as I said "chicken stock" in English (after she whipped out her phone and called her daughter, who speaks better English than her, to translate) she understood and took me right to it. I was in the right aisle, at least! So proud. 

 

I'm really hungry now so it's past time to start cooking, so I'm signing off for now. See you later! 

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26 minutes ago, Wobbegong said:

'm slowly but surely settling in. I still have no spices but I bought some garlic, ginger, mirin, and sugar today, to go with my very basic pantry that had included only soy sauce, ketchup, salt, and pepper. Sigh. Moving is tough, man. Unless you count furikake, which I kind of don't, Japanese people aren't really big on herbs and spices. I certainly haven't found that section in the grocery store yet. Speaking of the grocery store, today at school I had to attend the inaugural PTA meeting (all the teachers were introduced to the parents, including me) and then when I went grocery shopping a lady stopped me and said, "Hey, aren't you the new ALT? My kid goes to Inatori Middle School!" so I took the opportunity to ask her where the heck I could find some goddamn chicken stock. (In Japan, it comes in blocks, not liquid form.) So now I have some of that, too. She did not understand "It's chicken in a box that you put in hot water to make chicken flavor" and suggested oyakodon (chicken and egg served over rice) but as soon as I said "chicken stock" in English (after she whipped out her phone and called her daughter, who speaks better English than her, to translate) she understood and took me right to it. I was in the right aisle, at least! So proud. 

You are Japaning wrong

 

There is an aisle in that grocery store that once you discover it will make your culinary life amazing.  It has all of the pre-made flavorings for all of the foods you would normally eat in Japan.  You want chahan, buy the bag of chahan mix, you want mabodofu (and you always want mabodofu) you but the mabodofu box.  curry? check!  sweet & sour pork Subuta (I remembered!)? check!  stew? pilaf? miso soup? they have it all so you never really need seasonings by themselves :) 

 

I never new how to cook properly in the west but I ate like a king in Japan because the hard part is already done for you.

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On 4/17/2018 at 3:42 PM, Wobbegong said:

 

So, in order to set myself up for future success, I will spend this challenge re-establishing a baseline. I will pay attention to: 

 

  • What I am eating and how much (food composition and portion size) 
  • When I am sitting and when I am not, and what I am doing when I am not sitting (phrased this way because my life used to be "go for a run and then lounge in bed all day" and is now very little sitting) 
  • What I am doing with my time, what I want to be doing with my time, and if the two match (if not, why) 
  • The environmental factors that are notably different and the factors that are, for all intents and purposes, the same

 

Ah, very good! In the end you will achieve a state of total awareness: 

 

unagi.gif.ccc74bcd20701911e5306e256cf143a4.gif

 

;)

 

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12 hours ago, WhiteGhost said:

You are Japaning wrong

 

There is an aisle in that grocery store that once you discover it will make your culinary life amazing.  It has all of the pre-made flavorings for all of the foods you would normally eat in Japan.  You want chahan, buy the bag of chahan mix, you want mabodofu (and you always want mabodofu) you but the mabodofu box.  curry? check!  sweet & sour pork Subuta (I remembered!)? check!  stew? pilaf? miso soup? they have it all so you never really need seasonings by themselves :) 

 

I never new how to cook properly in the west but I ate like a king in Japan because the hard part is already done for you.

I'm not sure if you're overestimating my grocery store or if I'm just blind, but generally speaking my store has huge sections of a very small variety of foods. So there are like a hundred options for curry and udon and mirin but if I want beans my only options are dry soy or dry sweet red. I will admit that I have not explored the half-aisle of frozen foods yet. 

 

I'm not against cooking the way you suggest, I'm just not sure I believe you that my rural grocery store has everything you think it does. 

 

(I will say for the record that my cooking style lends itself to making delicious things out of a weird haphazard assortment of ingredients I have on hand, so please don't worry too much.) 

 

1 hour ago, Iceburner said:

 

Ah, very good! In the end you will achieve a state of total awareness: 

 

unagi.gif.ccc74bcd20701911e5306e256cf143a4.gif

 

;)

If I eat the unagi will I become the unagi

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Love these stories, so happy for you!!!
You'll adapt your diet soon enough, take it easy, it's a big change! One day you'll see that you are using healthy Japanese food options and you will be surprised

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1 hour ago, Wobbegong said:

I'm not against cooking the way you suggest, I'm just not sure I believe you that my rural grocery store has everything you think it does. 

How feasible is it for you to take a trip to one of the larger towns/cities and stock up on some stuff you can't find near you? 

 

1 hour ago, Wobbegong said:

(I will say for the record that my cooking style lends itself to making delicious things out of a weird haphazard assortment of ingredients I have on hand, so please don't worry too much.) 

That's the best kind of cooking! Though I may be a bit biased since that tends to be my cooking style too. :P

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3 hours ago, Wobbegong said:

I'm not sure if you're overestimating my grocery store or if I'm just blind, but generally speaking my store has huge sections of a very small variety of foods. So there are like a hundred options for curry and udon and mirin but if I want beans my only options are dry soy or dry sweet red. I will admit that I have not explored the half-aisle of frozen foods yet. 

 

I'm not against cooking the way you suggest, I'm just not sure I believe you that my rural grocery store has everything you think it does. 

 

(I will say for the record that my cooking style lends itself to making delicious things out of a weird haphazard assortment of ingredients I have on hand, so please don't worry too much.) 

I am going to go ahead and be presumptuous and suggest that by the time you leave Japan this will no longer be your cooking style.  Japan is not really a place that embraces individualism (at least not like we do it in the west), and therefore trying to do things differently from the "normal" way will require extra effort, and after a while that extra effort just doesn't seem like it is really worth it.  

 

The stuff I am talking about I never noticed for the first few months I was there because I didn't know what I was looking at.  It took a roommate explaining it to me before I finally learned the way of the flavor (aji-do?) :D   

 

I spent my first 5 months in a tiny town on the west shore of lake Biwa (Shiga Prefecture) and every store had this stuff so I would be extremely surprised if they didn't also have it there

 

Look for things like this:

Image result for japanese mapo doufu

Image result for japanese subuta

Image result for japanese subuta package

Image result for japanese chahan package

They are most likely going to be in the same place as the curry and udon, or close by

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